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Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Single-tasking the workspace

Keeping multiple browser tabs isn't a good idea - not only does it mean a cluttered workspace but it also distracts from getting work done. Tab Wrangler is a browser extension that seeks to resolve the tab addiction problem. Still, it merely automatically closes inactive tabs and stores them to be accessed later via a tab corral. The problem with the extension is that the tabs are not entirely out of sight. The bigger problem is multi-tasking and potentially getting distracted from the task that needs to be completed.

The best option, in my view, is to stay focused and single-task. Consequently, what is needed is a complete change in work habits. The question that follows is what is to be done with tabs containing articles and documents? Different options are possible with Kobo and Kindle e-readers:

  • Kobo has Pocket support inbuilt to its software - this means web articles saved via the Pocket browser extension will sync directly to the e-reader. Amazon, on the other hand, supports an official browser extension that can be configured to send formatted web articles to a Kindle.
  • The Kobo Forma supports Dropbox integration that makes it possible to download and transfer a PDF document to Dropbox to be then synced. Afterwards, the wirelessly transferred document can be read using KOReader. Kindles support the option to email a PDF document via email directly; it is also possible to convert the PDF document to text-based formatting to be read more easily on a six-inches e-reader. However, the results of the format will depend on the PDF document sent.

Options are higher with Android e-readers. One possibility is to use Folder Sync Pro to work between devices wirelessly. Folder Sync Pro supports Dropbox, Google Drive and Box. The Pocket app can also be installed from the Google Play Store to read stored articles.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

The Hisense Q5 is an intriguing tablet

Hisense is not afraid to innovate and has recently released three E-Ink phones: the A5, A5C and A5 Pro. The A5 has a monochrome E-Ink screen, and both the A5C/A5 Pro have colour ones. As a niche product, the user base of an E-Ink phone is small. It includes those wanting a phone for the basics - e.g., texting, making calls and reading news - that also doubles as a little e-reader.

In April 2020, Hisense announced the release of the Q5 - a monochrome tablet that uses a Reflective LCD (RLCD) display that does not emit any light. Considering that the display Hisense uses is based on LCD technology, then the refresh rate is far superior to E-Ink. If the refresh rate is is comparable to LCD tablets, as it seems to be in this video, then the Q5 offers the benefits of E-Ink but with the added advantage of tablet versatility. Android e-readers advertise that you are not restricted to one e-book store, as it is possible to install the Kindle app, Google Books or Kobo. However, in reality, most third-party apps are unusable due to the limitations of E-Ink. Hisense offers the dual advantage of eliminating light emission and the capability of running third-party applications designed for smartphones and tablets with little compromise. Other than third-party e-reading apps there are also significant advantages for productivity, e.g. word processing, browsing media-rich websites and even streaming video (albeit in black and white).

Three issues of concern are the low resolution, battery life and the dependence on external light. The Hisense Q5 has a low-resolution 1280X800 10.5-inches display and considering the RLCD screen, it is not clear if the text quality will be further compromised.  Regarding battery life, Hisense configured the Q5 with a 5050 mAh battery capacity - the capacity is not big for a regular tablet. Of course, this is the first time we have seen a tablet with RLCD display technology so it is not clear if the battery life will be comparable to E-Ink. However, as there is no backlight, the Hisense Q5's RLCD should be far more energy-efficient than an LCD tablet. 

The dependence of external light is the biggest concern. An E-Ink display is closer to a printed paper. It does not rely on light falling on the screen as its underlying technology is based on tiny positive black and negative white microcapsules that are activated by an electric field that moves these capsules to the surface.  In contrast, as noted, a reflective display uses the same underlying technology of LCD but needs external lighting as there is no backlighting. Being dependent on surrounding lighting, this opens the question if readability and contrast are affected. Further, from the released specifications, it is not clear if the RLCD has a front light installed. As the tablet has just been released in China, it'll be interesting to follow reviews to see if the Hisense Q5 performs well in low lighting conditions.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

How to install and use dictionaries on Boyue e-readers

As posted before, Boyue's e-readers require trial and error to discover its features. Out of the box, for example, Boyue does not pre-install or support the download of wirelessly hosted dictionaries. Likebook e-readers come with a manual in which there is a section on adding a thesaurus file but the instruction provided merely guides the user to place StarDict files in the DICT folder. However, there are no further instructions on where to find dictionaries to install. A repository of StarDict dictionaries is available here; dual-language translation dictionaries can be found here.

The process of installing a dictionary is relatively straightforward but might be more challenging for the novice user that has previously used a Kindle or Kobo e-reader. First, it is necessary to find a StarDict dictionary. Second, the dictionary comes compressed in a TAR file and needs to be unpacked using, e.g., WinRar. Third, the folder in the unpacked dictionary should be copied and pasted into the DICT folder. Finally, as the Chinese system dictionary is set as default, the user then needs to enter the dictionary app to select the order side-loaded dictionaries appears in the native software. After completing the set-up process, it is possible to switch between dictionaries by swiping right after selecting a word.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

OpenStax textbooks

OpenStax, part of Rice University, is an educational initiative that releases and updates free (a great word!) textbooks. Subjects include, for example, sociology, economics, astronomy and psychology. The books can be downloaded directly from their website in PDF format. It is also possible to download the textbooks as an e-book from the Kindle store (search 'openstax' to find the books). OpenStax also hosts open educational resources that supplement the textbooks. 

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Fire HD 8 Plus: Initial impressions

I've started using Amazon's recently released Fire HD 8 Plus. The Fire HD 8 Plus is near identical to the regular Fire HD 8 but with an extra GB of RAM and support for wireless charging. Due to the support for wireless charging, Amazon also released, in collaboration with ANGREAT, a fast-charging dock that activates Alexa show mode.

My initial impressions of the tablet are more negative than positive. The main problem is the very reflective screen that affects viewing even indoors. In my view, an anti-reflective screen protector is a must for the Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 8 Plus. The positives are better performance and the extra RAM that makes switching between apps smoother.

In a future post, I'll write-up a short review and compare the Fire HD 8 Plus to other budget Android tablets.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Further observations on the Likebook Ares Note

Below is a list of further observations after using the Likebook Ares Note for an extended period:
  • I previously posted that the Ares battery drains, relative to other e-readers, significantly quicker in standby mode. After completing a factory reset, I noticed the standby drainage issue has been resolved. Further, the factory reset also improved battery life with general usage. If reading two to three hours daily, I estimate five days of usage. However, if the Ares is viewed as more than an e-reader, e.g., browsing the internet or using tablet designed apps, then expect battery life in hours. As I previously posted, E-Ink is a technology not suited for tablets, and so the short battery life for tablet-specific tasks is expected.
  • I tried different ways to resolve the battery drainage problem when writings digital notes in the native notes application but without success (I get 10% drainage every thirty minutes of continuous writing). After a factory reset, as a test, I didn't enable the Google Play Store or install a third-party application, but this made no difference. The battery problem may be due to the software not being optimised to work with the Wacom layer. To compare, I got twice the battery life taking notes on the Onyx Note Plus.
  • The Ares supports the conversion of notebooks to a PDF document, but the feature is only supported locally. If you want to export a notebook wirelessly - e.g., via Email - the only option, it appears, is to have each page converted into a JPEG image. As this is an Android e-reader, it is possible to install a file manager app to wirelessly share the converted PDF notebook.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Extensive stylus use drains the Ares Note's battery

After using the stylus on the Likebook Ares Note for a prolonged period, I noticed a significant loss of battery life. I've used the stylus to take notes using the built-in notebook application.

After long writing sessions, the battery's charge loses 8%-10% every thirty minutes (turning battery saver on didn't seem to make a big difference). Consequently, I would estimate extensive note-taking to drain the battery after 5-6 hours. Of course, this would be a poor result for a tablet, let alone an e-reader. However, if you primarily wish to read on the Ares, then expect an estimated 12 hours of use (it is possible to get two full days of use if you turn off the front light and mainly use the built-in e-reading software).

Another issue to consider is that the Ares Note's battery, compared to other e-readers, drains faster in standby mode. The best way to remedy battery drainage in standby mode is to set the Ares to automatically shut down after 120 minutes of not being used.